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Boston Restaurant Blog -- March, 2008

Below are blog entries from March, 2008. Use the links in the left column to do a quick search of blog entries, or to see blog entries from other months. And feel free to use the "Comments" links under each blog entry to reply to us; your comments just might end up in our Boston restaurant blog! (Note: This page is part of our restaurant features section.)

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MARCH, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Flat Patties, Cambridge: Not Just Burgers

I finally got over to Flat Patties in Harvard Square after reading so much about the place (and hearing about it from friends as well as seeing it on the Phantom Gourmet). My hopes were high going in, but ironically, what bowled me over at Flat Patties wasn't the burger, but the pulled pork sandwich.

photo of burger and fries at Flat Patties, Cambridge, Massachusetts A few hours before I headed over to Flat Patties, someone on the Chowhound site mentioned that the shredded pork sandwich was an item on the menu that should not be missed, and was this person ever right. The quality of the pork was excellent, but it was the cole slaw added to it that may have put it over the top. The resulting taste was one that I won't soon forget. But this is not to say the burger was not worth getting; I didn't think it was quite as good as the shredded pork, but it was pretty tasty, as the juices that stayed with the burger (their burgers are cooked on a griddle) gave it a good amount of added taste. The burger (as well as the shredded pork) was served in a buttery brioche bun, and the cheese was browned along the sides, which is a big plus for me when it comes to cheeseburgers. The handcut fries were very good, with just the right mix of salt added to them.

I didn't mention the atmosphere of Flat Patties because frankly there isn't any. Like other food places in The Garage in Harvard Square, Flat Patties won't win people over with their decor, but they do have several tables as well as some counter seating that looks out toward the main part of The Garage. Flat Patties has counter service, and while the line was long when I was there, it moved pretty quickly. Prices were cheap as you might expect, with my burger, fries, shredded pork, and drink totaling around $10, give or take.

Flat Patties is little more than an above average fast-food place (much like UBurger in Kenmore Square), but the food is good and the price is right. I know that I'll be going back there whenever I'm in Harvard Square again.

If you want the address for Flat Patties, here it is: Flat Patties, 81 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. The phone number is (617) 871-6871.

Related Blog Entries: Cambridge restaurants, hamburgers

Thursday, March 20, 2008
Group Lunch at the Aegean Restaurant, Watertown

Because I try so many different restaurants, there are few places that I return to more than a few times. But there are a handful that I go to quite often, including the Aegean Restaurant, a Greek dining spot in East Watertown. And it isn't so much that the Aegean has such great food (I actually feel that they can be inconsistent), but it is more the fact that there are few places I know of that can accommodate a large group of people on relatively short notice. And this is exactly what happened last weekend, as a large number of us were scrambling to find a dining spot that had enough room at the last minute. Fortunately, the Aegean came through for us, and as a bonus, it turned out to be one of the best all-around meals that we have had there.

photo of the Aegean Restaurant, Watertown, Massachusetts We arrived at the Aegean around 3:00 in the afternoon, so it was a very late lunch for us. The table setup was strange (tables were put together in the shape of an "L," so that some of us had to turn completely sideways to talk to others), but there was a decent amount of elbow room. We ordered all kinds of appetizers and entrees, and unlike in the past with large groups at the Aegean, every single person at the table was happy with the food. My combo plate, for instance (which included moussaka, spanakopita, grape leaves, pastitsio, and roasted potatoes), was consistently excellent. The grilled salmon was also a big hit, as was the beef gyro. And because it was still considered lunchtime, the total price of the meal was an absurdly low $150 or so for eleven people.

I only wish the Aegean were this good all the time, but in my opinion, it isn't. The quality for me has been all over the map, from subpar to average to good to excellent to outstanding. But if the meal last weekend were any indication, perhaps the quality of their food will be consistently good from this point on. I may have to get back there soon to see if this is indeed true. No matter what, though, the Aegean remains a decent option for those who like Greek food and might be looking for a place that can seat larger groups.

If you are looking for the address for the Aegean Restaurant, here it is: Aegean Restaurant, 640 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 02472. The phone number is (617) 923-7771.

Related Blog Entries: Greek restaurants, Watertown restaurants

Sunday, March 16, 2008
St. Patrick's Day Eve Meal at Brennan's Grille, Easton

Since St. Patrick's Day is on a Monday this year, it did not look like I would be able to do much of anything on March 17, but we did end up spending the afternoon at an Irish pub today (March 16). And while Brennan's Grille in Easton was a bit disappointing, it was nice to have a pint and some pub food while listening to a bit of Irish music.

photo of Brennan's Grille, Easton, Massachusetts I had been to Brennan's a couple of times for dinner over the past few years, and I recall the food being pretty good. I also remembered the great atmosphere there, as they have creaky old wooden floors, beams along the ceiling, and a working (gas) fireplace in the dining room. Unfortunately, while the dining area remained a pleasant place to be, the food that we had earlier today was not up to par. The French dip included roast beef that was limp and lukewarm, and the corned beef and cabbage dinner included corned beef that was very fatty. The fries that came with the French dip were decent, and the boiled potatoes that came with the corned beef and cabbage were pretty good. The highlight was probably the homemade chicken soup, however, as it had lots of fresh carrots and a ton of white meat chicken, as well as a nice broth. The pints of Guinness were well-poured, though it took more than 10 minutes for mine to arrive. Entertainment included traditional Irish music on the stereo at first, followed by a singer from Ireland who used what must have been a karaoke machine to accompany him. It was a bit cheesy, but a lot of fun.

I hope that this was just a subpar day for Brennan's, food-wise, as a number of people I know (including myself) have had some good meals there in the past. I'll probably get back there over the coming months for dinner, with my fingers crossed that the food will be back up to a decent level.

If you want the address for Brennan's Grille, here it is: Brennan's Grille, 402 Turnpike Street (Route 138), Easton, MA 02333. The phone number is (508) 238-3773.

Related Blog Entries: Easton restaurants, Irish pubs

Saturday, March 8, 2008
More Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens Restaurants

I got back from New York City a few days ago, completing the round of three trips to the Big Apple that I did over the past couple of months. And much like on the other trips, I found a couple of outstanding dining spots, including one in Queens and another on the edge of Manhattan's Little Italy. And, once again, I was able to get to perhaps my favorite pizza place anywhere in the Northeast; it is a popular little place on Wooster Street in New Haven. Need I say more?

photo of Donovan's, Queens, New York I went on this trip with three others who definitely love their restaurants, so it turned into a "let's find the best places" type of trip. And what better place to start than at Donovan's in the Woodside section of Queens? This surprisingly roomy Irish pub (complete with fireplace in the back room) claims to have the best burger in New York, and while I haven't had enough burgers in the city to make a judgment, I can say without exaggeration that the juicy, crumbly, grilled burger at Donovan's was better than anything I have had in Boston, and rivals Hodad's in Ocean Beach, CA, my all-time favorite. The atmosphere was quaint and cozy, too, and it reminded me of a few of the pubs I've been to in the rural towns along the West Coast of Ireland.

We soon left Donovan's and headed into Brooklyn, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge into Lower Manhattan, which would be our home for the next few days. After a stop up at Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village for some terrific slices (as I found out this time, you need to get the slices with mozzarella slices, not the regular ones), we headed back to Lower Manhattan for a quick drink at Ulysses, a pleasantly modern Irish pub on Pearl Street, before heading to the northern fringes of Little Italy for some more pizza.

photo of Lombardi's, Manhattan, New York The wait at Lombardi's was a long one, so we walked up Spring Street a short distance to a bustling bar called the Spring Pub before heading back to Lombardi's for what turned out to be one of the best, if not the best, pizzas I have had in New York City. Sitting in the basement room, the four of us split a couple of pies; I stuck to the pepperoni pizza with mozzarella slices and basil. The thin crust was charred just right, the slices of cheese were mild yet tasty, and the sauce was zesty and hearty. To me, it tasted a bit like a place in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn that I would return to the next night after a few years, but more about that later.

By the time we left Lombardi's it was coming up on 9:30 at night, so we decided to return to Lower Manhattan where we could have a nightcap near where we were staying. Unfortunately, Moran's on Washington Street was closed for some reason (I found out later that the place is still open, but do not know why they were closed on a Saturday night), so we went up the street to Trinity Place, a restaurant and pub located in a bank vault at the corner of Broadway and Cedar that I had been to two weeks earlier. The bartender was entertaining, the music was good, and the place was pretty quiet, so we stayed there, eventually heading back to where we were staying.

photo of the Stage Deli, Manhattan, New York On Sunday morning, we started with a rather uninspiring breakfast at a cafe on Pearl Street, we headed up to the Strand Bookstore near Union Square for awhile before taking the subway into Midtown, where we had lunch at the Stage Deli. The Stage is a famous place popular with tourists and locals alike, though when we arrived around 1:00 in the afternoon, there were plenty of seats available. I started with an outstanding matzah ball soup (perhaps better than any I've had in Boston), then moved on to my corned beef sandwich, which I had thought was outrageously priced at about $15. But the sandwich was big enough for two or even three people, as it had 25 slices of corned beef and 4 slices of cheese as well as a tasty pickle on the side. Somehow I ate the entire sandwich, which I figured I would regret later, but it was a very good sandwich, with lean, tender corned beef that was a cut above most corned beef I've had. My dining companions had a turkey sandwich (not bad) and a corned beef and pastrami (very good) as well as various soups, all of which were excellent.

After lunch we went across the street to an Irish pub called The Irish Pub you have a to love a name that is straight and to the point). It was a musty, tired old place that nonetheless was my favorite watering hole on the entire trip, mainly because it was friendly, cheap, and a relaxing oasis among the hustle and bustle of Midtown. We stayed there for quite a while, eventually heading out to return to Greenwich Village to wander around, then back to Lower Manhattan, where a family member met us all for our next dining excursion.

photo of Grimaldi's, Brooklyn, New York Two cabs took us from where we were staying in Lower Manhattan to the Dumbo section of Brooklyn (just on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge), where we took our space in line outside of Grimaldi's, a pizza place on Old Fulton Street that is an institution of sorts. Now I was greatly looking forward to getting back to Grimaldi's going there a few years ago, but it didn't quite match the experience I had the first time, when I had what I thought at the time was the best pizza I had ever eaten before. This time, however, my pepperoni pizza was a tad undercooked with no charring of the crust, and the sauce didn't quite have the great taste of Lombardi's the night before. The two pizzas are virtually identical in that they are both thin-crust pies cooked in coal-fried ovens with slices of white mozzarella on top, but I felt that Lombardi's was simply better. Plus, sitting in Grimaldi's was very uncomfortable, as everyone in the place was squeezed in as tightly as possible with absolutely no elbow room. It was still an overall decent experience, but I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed.

We soon left Grimaldi's and walked down to the wharves, where we soaked in the incredible views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline before turning back and walking up the hill to a Spanish restaurant and club on Front Street called Toro. We were in no mood for food, so we hung out at their moody, exotic looking bar for awhile, chatting with the bartender and the owner. The place is located in an old bank, and the high ceilings, huge windows, and magnificent architectural detail made this a place I want to get back to, perhaps for dinner someday. By the time we left Toro, it was nearly midnight, so we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, headed over to a comfortable old pub called The Paris in the South Street Seaport district, and soon called it a night.

photo of Nathan's, Brooklyn (Coney Island), New York It was Monday morning and time to leave New York, but before we did, we took a drive through various parts of Brooklyn, including Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and Midwood, before ending up at Coney Island. Dumpy, dirty, and rather forlorn, but with an incredible history, Coney Island lured us in if only for a little while, with its cheesy shops (most of which were closed), amusement parks, and, of course, Nathan's, which is one of the most famous hot dogs stands in the country. And that is exactly where we went, enjoying corn dogs and Nathan's original hot dogs while doing some rather interesting people-watching both inside and out. We actually agreed that the corn dogs were our favorite, though the original hot dogs were also excellent, and I vowed to return on my next trip to New York (especially if we see a Brooklyn Cyclones game).

Once we left Coney Island, we made a beeline for Boston, but not before stopping once again at Pepe's in New Haven for what I now believe is my favorite pizza in the entire Northeast (with all due respect to John's in Manhattan and the aforementioned Lombardi's). To me, it was simply a perfect pizza, with a charred crust, delicious sauce, browned cheese, and pepperoni that was curled just right on the ends. It was a fitting way to end a terrific journey--and to close out my trifecta of New York City road trips for the winter.

Related Blog Entries: Brooklyn restaurants, Manhattan restaurants, New York restaurants, Queens restaurants

Saturday, March 1, 2008
Irish Pizza (and a Burger) at the Common Ground, Allston

We went over to the Common Ground in Allston a couple of weeks back after hearing that their pub food was better than average. Well, it turned out that our meals were indeed very good, and while it was anything but fine dining, I could see myself making some more trips to this place in the future.

photo of the Common Ground, Allston, Massachusetts The Common Ground looks like the type of place that should have a stale beer smell coming from the tables and floors, and cigarette smoke hovering below the ceiling (and maybe it did before the no-smoking rules took effect). Now this might not sound appealing to many, but it has a sort of simple charm in my eyes, as so many bars and pubs these days try to make themselves look upscale and sophisticated. The single room is square, dark, and musty, with a bar area on the left and some tables for dining on the right. We grabbed a table near a TV and ordered a couple of beers and an appetizer (a decent plate of Asian potstickers to start our meal off. The beer list is excellent at the Common Ground, with Brooklyn Double Chocolate Stout and Chimay (perhaps my favorite beer of all time) helping lead the way. While sipping on my Chimay, I noticed that the music in the background sounded like it was coming right out of my MP3 player, and we were soon humming along to Jane's Addiction, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains.

After sipping our beers and listening to some tunes, we finally ordered a couple of entrees that I had heard a lot about--the Irish pizza and the chargrilled burger. The Irish pizza was extremely tasty but probably had more calories than everything else on the menu combined. It was a not-quite deep-dish pizza that consisted of cheddar cheese, mashed potatoes, bacon, and scallions. I ate about half before feeling very sleepy, so I had the rest wrapped up. The burger was juicy, cooked perfectly, and had enough fat content to give it a nice flavor. It was not quite up to the level of the best burgers in Boston, but it really was quite nice.

I was too full for another beer (or a dessert), so we soon grabbed the check and hit the road. On a related note, the rest of the Irish pizza ended up being almost too much for me to eat for dinner a couple of nights later; I could have easily gotten three meals out of it. I'm not sure my body could take another Irish pizza anytime soon, but I would definitely head back to the Common Ground in the near future to sample more of their excellent beers, enjoy their decent pub grub, and sing along to the music that I grew up with.

If you would like the address for the Common Ground, here it is: Common Ground, 83 Harvard Avenue, Allston, MA 02134. The phone number is (617) 783-2071.

Related Blog Entries: Allston restaurants, Boston bars